Water experts exchange experiences to face the challenges of climate change

Given the circumstances and challenges under we have to live at the beginning of a new decade, the work of specialized scientists becomes more critical and important than ever. Understanding their work helps us to better comprehend our own reality.

Experts and decision makers who work in the water sector of our region also share the same vision. Water, an essential element for life and ecosystems, is the basis and right of our societies, as well as the engine of the economy. Strengthening ties between water scientists, opening spaces for exchange and collaboration among specialists, reinforces research on the state of water and the actions to be taken to ensure the supply, both today and in the future, of this fundamental resource and whose access was declared as a human right.

With the World Water Day 2020 as framework, UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Program in Latin America and the Caribbean (IHP-LAC) gathered more than a hundred experts, decision makers and world leaders, to exchange and shed new light on such a fundamental issue as the relationship between water and climate change. This year the meeting took place by videoconference due to the situation of personal isolation and quarantine in the context of COVID-19.

During the videoconference the message of UNESCO Director-General Ms. Audrey Azoulay about World Water Day was highlighted. Ms. Lidia Brito, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureu for Sciences in Latin America and the Caribbean pointed out the environmental and social situation in the region. The Secretary of the Intergovernmental Hydrological Program Mr. Youssef Filali-Meknassi also recalled the crosscutting importance of water and the challenges experienced in the context of climate change. Ms. Silvia Chávez (Mexico), vice-president of the IHP Intergovernmental Council table, highlighted the important impact that climate change has on the region's water resources and how it affects the most vulnerable communities.

The current conjuncture of the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 impacts were also considered. Participants took the opportunity to exchange about the relationship that this circumstance has with water supply and wastewater management.

On this regard, Mr. Miguel Doria, UNESCO Regional Hydrologist in Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed that experts from the region and PAHO are carrying out investigations to guarantee the access of the most vulnerable communities to water, allow hygiene and avoid contamination that makes it a means of disease transmission. He also highlighted the work carried out by the IHP-LAC in the region, particularly in relation to climate change. Mr. Doria announced a series of measures, including the preparation of studies and virtual courses (some already available) that the PHI-LAC is currently developing

The World Water Development Report

The "World Water Development Report 2020: water and climate change" carried out by World Water Assessment Programme (UNESCO WWAP) this year was dedicated to the close relationship between quality and quantity of water, and the effects that climate change has on them.

According to this report, in Latin America and the Caribbean

"rapid urbanization, economic development, and demographic and consumption changes are some of the main socio-economic causes of the pressure being sustained by water systems, to which are added the repercussions of climate change. Poverty is a central concern in most countries and increases vulnerability to climate change. Lack of economic resources also translates into unequal access to water and sanitation and vice versa. The increasing risk of contracting waterborne diseases affects the most poor. Vulnerability is also high in rural areas; climate factors limit economic options and provoke the rural exodus”.

Based on updated data from the WWAP Report, scientists and authorities develop exchanges on the region's challenges in relation to risk management, contingency plans, adaptation and mitigation, in ecosystems of Latin America and the Caribbean that are so different and at the same time so interrelated. Mr. Miguel Doria and by Mr. Juan Criado (from UNESCO Offices in Montevideo and Costa Rica respectively) presented the report for the region, with the participation of science experts from the UNESCO Offices in Quito, Brasilia, Mexico, Peru and Kingston.

Perspectives on water and climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean

The IHP-LAC working groups bring together experts from various countries in the region, who constantly collaborate to address problems and identify solutions for various water-related issues, including the effects that climate change has on it.

Mr. Hugo Delgado (Mexico), Regional Coordinator of the Snow and Ice Working Group, and Mr. Gino Cassasa (Chile), member of the same Working Group, pointed out the Declaration on Glaciers and Climate Change scope, signed by experts from different countries of the region in the Portillo-Juncal Glacier on December 2019. According to the declaration

“in Latin American countries with glaciers in their territories (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) there is evidence of a strong retreat of the glaciers, decrease in thickness and even the extinction of the glaciers in the region. The national experts of the IHP-LAC Snow and Ice Working Group expressed their concern about the serious consequences of not establishing adequate and rapid measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized region on the planet, with more than 80% of its population living in cities. According to Mr. Carlos Berroeta (Chile), Coordinator of the Working Group of the IHP-LAC of Urban Waters, megacities of Latin America face serious challenges with climate change.

“To face the different challenges of the megacities, territories that they are exceptional in terms of size and that they have a large amount of intellectual, technical and financial resources, they require that they be efficiently mobilized to promote innovation and achieve solutions that guarantee sustainable management of water resources”.

On the particular situation in the Caribbean, Mr. John Bowleg, IHP focal point in the Bahamas, pointed out the devastating impact that Hurricane Dorian had on the Bahamas islands and on its groundwater. Mr. Henrique Chaves (Brazil) Coordinator of the GRAPHIC-LAC Program, who participated as an IHP expert in the evaluation of the consequences after Dorian, also emphasized Mr. Chaves point. Ambassador David Doyle (Permanent Delegation of St. Kitts and Nevis to UNESCO) and Mr. Massimiliano Lombardo, Natural Sciences Specialist Caribbean Anglophone Cluster (UNESCO Kingston), highlighted the results of the Caribbean Water Ministers' Symposium gathered last year. According to the statement reached at the Symposium

“many countries in the Caribbean are currently experiencing complex challenges in terms of water security, including water scarcity and drought, pollution, watershed degradation, saline intrusion and flooding, and climate change is worsening the severity of these challenges."